Starting an e-commerce channel for your business

Online sales continue to grow. An online shop can offer an additional sales outlet and even help you scale internationally. Get started with these tips.

3-minute read

When it comes to shopping online, Kiwis are spending up large. BNZ estimates New Zealanders spent $4.1 billion online in 2017 – a figure up 11 percent on the year prior. 

But getting a slice of that retail-spending pie is just one of a number of benefits businesses can gain from setting up an e-commerce channel. An online shop can offer an additional sales outlet at a fraction of the cost of setting up a bricks-and-mortar store; expose a business to a global audience; offer customers the convenience of shopping 24/7; and be a powerful branding tool.

At its core an e-commerce channel needs to fulfil a number of requirements. For example, it must allow customers to:

  • See your products: Ideally it will be easy to navigate, show what you’re selling in its best light with good quality images and offer good product descriptions to limit seller confusion (and returns).

  • Select your products with a shopping cart function.

  • Pay for your products: There are a number of options to make online payments through e-commerce sites, but an absolute necessity is to ensure all sensitive customer information is secure.

  • Receive your products: Ideally you will have a simple and clear shipping policy (for example ‘we charge $10 to ship orders under $100; shipping on orders over $100 is free’). You’ll also need to decide if you’ll sell and ship internationally, making clear any restrictions, relevant charges, and the return policy.

  • Adhere to consumer laws.

In the early days of online commerce, the time and costs involved made it prohibitive for many small businesses to develop their own online shop. Those days, however, are well and truly over and there are a number of different ways businesses can now sell online that offer a range of cost and customisation options.

Some of the different channels include:

  • Third-party e-commerce platforms: Trade Me is perhaps our best-known local example of an e-commerce site that hosts other online stores. This can be a relatively simple, and cost-effective means of selling online, although there can be limitations in terms of how your brand and products are presented.

  • E-commerce platforms: Providers like Shopify allow users to create an online store using simple and flexible templates, generally for an ongoing monthly cost that may also cover services like payment processing.

  • Bespoke design and develop: If you want a solution customised to your own specifications you may want to seek the services of specialist e-commerce designers and developers. Like anything customised, this will likely cost much more than an off-the-shelf solution so it pays to research providers carefully.

For small business owners looking to start selling online, the upfront and ongoing charges associated with the different options will be key considerations. But an equally important consideration is the human resource and time involved in opening a new sales channel.

Selling online is not a set-and-forget activity. An e-commerce store, like a physical one, will require your ongoing attention – whether that’s to ensure product details are kept up-to-date, your SEO is optimised, or you’re consistently driving traffic to your site through social media and other marketing activities – so ensure you allocate it adequate time and budget.

Keep track of sales closely: incremental updates such as tweaks to shipping, packing, etc., can have a huge impact on sales growth.

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